NewJeans may not have celebrated its first birthday yet, but the South Korean quintet behind the hit songs “Attention” and “Hype Boy” has become a need-to-know name in fashion circles.
BTS attends the 2022 Grammy Awards wearing Louis Vuitton. credits: Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Why luxury loves NewJeans
Although their meteoric rise is similar to Blackpink’s, and both acts are multi-member girl groups (NewJeans has five members to Blackpink’s four), that’s mostly where the similarities end. When it comes to aesthetic and musical appeal, NewJeans has been charting its own path with a girl-next-door-look and sweet pop tunes since debuting last July.
Instead of high-octane makeup and outfits, the girls are styled as innocent and mostly natural. In the music videos for both “Ditto” and “Cookie,” they wear schoolgirl uniforms, meanwhile in “OMG”, they dance with backpacks in the shape of stuffed toy animals.
NewJeans member Danielle has been appointed as a brand ambassador for YSL Beauty. credits: Han Myung-Gu/WireImage/Getty Images
The sets in each of their music videos are relatively simple, too — for example, a sports field, or a studio with a bench as the only prop. It’s a contrast to the swaggery dance moves and highly-saturated, CGI-effects-filled music videos that have been dominant among K-pop girl groups.
That choice could be due to how young the group’s members are. The oldest, Minji, is only 18, while Hyein is just 14. The cutesy stylings also extend to their dedicated fan app “Phoning” and YouTube channel, where they release the kind of content that could double as a children’s TV show. In various 30-minute clips, they play shop, throw a pajama party and visit a farm, for example.
Who are their fans?
Brands and events have been lining up to tap into their growing following, a fandom that calls themselves Bunnies or “tokki” — a reference to a cartoon rabbit character on the NewJeans’ album cover.
Seoul Fashion Week appointed the group ambassadors for 2023, succeeding actor Lee Jung Jae of “Squid Game” fame. The organizers pointed to “their daily fashion and stage outfits (which) show this naturalness and bouncy charm in a bright and friendly way,” and coordinated for the group to promote local designers Ulkin, Ajobyajo and Blr Bluer during the event.
But as important as their home market is (South Korea over-indexes on luxury sales relative to the size of its population), it’s the girls’ international appeal that stands out. Musinsa, a leading e-commerce platform that specializes in selling South Korean fashion overseas signed the group in October as ambassadors.
The company, which stocks some 300 brands like Thisis never that and Mardi Mercredi on its global site, said in the announcement it expects the group to “create a new wave of K-fashion” and that they will “be perfect as a K-icon for promoting Korean fashion brands to the world.”
Musinsa plans to use the campaigns with NewJeans to market in Japan, Southeast Asia, the US and — leveraging the background of two of the girls, Danielle and Hanni, who grew up there — Australia.
NewJeans are pictured leaving South Korea’s Incheon International Airport in November 2022. credits: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins/Getty Images
In a pairing that seemed destined to happen, NewJeans signed on as Levi’s global ambassadors in mid-March. The denim brand called it “a natural partnership” thanks to the “group’s desire to be as timeless to culture as jeans are to fashion.”
That same month, the group was featured in a photo shoot with the US edition of Vogue, shot by photographer Cho Giseok.
Because Cho also wears another hat as the founder of the LVMH Prize-nominated fashion label, Kusikohc, his brand saw a jump in social media followers after the Vogue photo shoot.
Lawrence Von Mohl, global brand manager for Kusikohc, said that Asian pop stars tend to cultivate much more intense fanbases in the West, while Asian followers are more willing to spend money to support their idols, even irrationally. (Fans have been known to each buy dozens of copies of an album to make sure their favorite performer will break industry records.)
“The following is insane,” said Von Mohl. “If you go to the big (fashion) shows Chanel, Dior or what not, there’s screams when the K-pop stars come out, you can barely hear your own voice, and not when a Western celebrity runs down the carpet.”
For now, Blackpink is still a rarity in the world of K-pop in the way it’s been able to capture mass Western mainstream awareness. The group is set to strengthen that further when it performs a headline set at Coachella later this month. Blackpink was the first K-pop group to perform there, back in 2019, which was hailed as a major feat at the time. Much of the attention will be back on the group with new tour dates, and specifically band member Jisoo, whose two singles from her solo debut stormed Spotify’s steaming charts over the weekend.
Rosé, Jennie, Jisoo and Lisa of Blackpink pictured at the 2022 MTV VMAs. credits: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images
There’s other competition, too, from newer acts. Fifty Fifty, another girl group, became the fastest K-pop group to break into the US Billboard Hot 100 chart with its song “Cupid”, and IVE’s music label announced that it is about to start marketing the group in North America. IVE member Yujin recently nabbed an ambassador role with Fendi.
But NewJeans, in its first full summer season, will already be touring globally at a major US festival. The band is set to take the stage at Lollapalooza in Chicago, compared to the three years it took Blackpink to be invited to perform at Coachella, indicating that NewJeans is strongly positioned to claim a growing stake in the lucrative fashion endorsements market.